Neverwinter, the free to play (F2P) MMO, recently went live and I’ve been spending time with it. Why? Because it’s a game based on Dungeons & Dragons lore, specifically the Forgotten Realms setting made popular by TSR in the late 80s and even more popular by the Drizzt Do’Urden novels penned by R.A. Salvatore.
Typically the problem with a F2P model is it sacrifices access for all at the expense of the gaming experience for all. The F2P model was one popularized in Asian MMORPGs and has recently become popular with almost all MMOs. The only bastions of monthly subscriptions is World of Warcraft and EVE. Nearly every other MMO has been released as F2P or converted to F2P. One of the most recent being Star Wars: The Old Republic . . . which turned out to be a disaster.
Is Neverwinter worth your time? Yes . . . but it’s a short list. And thankfully your free time spent in the game will be short but sweet.
Is it worth your money? NFW . . . not unless you enjoy paying for every little thing, hitting level cap in days, and don’t mind enduring enraging bugs and exploiting.
Instead of getting extremely wordy (I probably will anyway) I’m just going to break it down for you with bullets.
TL;DR – Neverwinter F2P is fun for about two weeks. Don’t drop a dime on it. You’ve been warned.
Here’s Why Neverwinter is Worth Your Time
- It’s free to play, obviously. That being said, almost all F2P MMOs are worth at least checking out if it looks interesting to you. But not all F2P games are worth your time, this one just happens to be at least for a short time. But it comes with a laundry list of caveats as given in the next section.
- Combat is action oriented. There is no tab targeting that is common to most MMOs. This is reticule based targeting, charging in to combat, blocking, dodging, enraging, and generally a lot of fun. The action bar is small, meaning you only have to manage a handful of skills. This is usually true for all MMOs where you have 50 skills on action bars but only end up using 5 of them 95% of the time. Neverwinter fixes this, and I really like this about the game. Guild Wars 2 also has a minimalistic approach to the action bar, and I really liked it in that game as well.
- Classes. The character classes currently in the game at traditional D&D: cleric, rogue, wizard, and two versions of fighter (tank and damage).
- Graphics. Neverwinter looks pretty good (see screenshots). But, only if you crank every graphics setting to max. If you are forced to run the game at lower resolution due to deficient hardware you will be looking at a fairly homely game.
- The Foundry. There’s good and bad with this feature. It allows players to create content (basically quests, or a series of quests) using an in game editor and publish it within the game. Other players can then access these adventures via NPCs, kiosks, or by just accessing a menu. But the problem with the Foundry is that easily 97% of the adventures are utter junk. Like long hallways full of easy to kill mobs so you can grind experience easily. Poorly written (or not written at all) quests. Foundry quests that exploit bugs. Etc. It’s a powerful tool, but in the wrong hands (most of the player base) it’s basically useless.
Here’s Why Neverwinter is NOT Worth Your Money
- Operant Conditioning Chamber. Also known as a “Skinner Box.” You’ve probably heard the term, and it’s not new to the MMO genre. It’s a well known behavioral experiment used to manipulate a subject’s actions using a very well defined (and devious) set of inputs. Neverwinter is one of the best Skinner Box MMOs to hit the market in recent years. World of Warcraft mastered it with its first expansion (The Burning Crusade), but some of these F2P MMOs are learning to monetize it. You are the rat. Shiny virtual junk are the food pellets. Lockboxes (et al) are the dispenser. The in game stores are the keys to unlock the dispenser, to grant you a food pellet. But sometimes you don’t get a pellet (awwwwww), and at rare times you get a Super Shiny Gold Plated Food Pellet (yay, addiction!). Need more keys!!! Enjoy your Massively Multiplayer Online Skinner Box!!
- The game is still classified as open beta. But don’t let the term fool you. Neverwinter is in “open beta” and released for everyone to play, but they are taking your money. You are paying them to finish their game. Why it was released, and why they are taking payments (for store items) is beyond my comprehension. This is borderline criminal (if not morally wrong) because of all the exploiting and botting going on that trivializes what why people may choose to spend money on the game. Buyer beware!!
- Cheating. Astral diamond duping, scripting, botting, party leaders kicking everyone after killing final bosses and being able to loot all items, and many other exploits are commonplace in the game. So if you spend real money buying a $200 founder’s pack and receive the 2 million astral diamonds (AD) to spend . . . the exploiters are laughing at you as they dupe hundreds of millions in ADs and sell them in game or sell them to real world gold farmers to be recycled back in to the economy. And if you see anyone riding a spider mount you know they were the ones to dump $200 on a game that’s still in beta and buggy as can be.
- Companions. They are bad . . . B . . . A . . . D. Abominable bad! My experience was with the Guardian Fighter using a cleric companion. The companion AI is easily the worst I’ve seen in a game . . . ever. It’s transparent early on, but with each passing level the broken and flawed companion AI become more and more glaring. My cleric loved to do all of the following: stand in fire until she died, stand in lava until she died, stand in anything until she died, rush in to one on one melee range as I attacked multiple targets, sometimes she wouldn’t heal me, sometimes she wouldn’t follow me, sometimes she just disappears. In most fights level 50 and above she spends most of the time dead on the ground because the AI is so bad that it seems to go out of its way to place companions in as much harm as possible.
- LFG / Dungeon Finder. Neverwinter has a looking for group feature. That’s a good thing. The problem is the game does not penalize people who ditch the party in the middle of the dungeon, nor does it have a feature to replace people who leave a group. So if even one person leave your party…your dungeon is dead. It’s a monumental waste of people’s time by not including both of these simple features.
- Auction House. The auction house is broken in every way. Search barely works. Sorting barely works. Some listings show negative time left. Exploits abound where people make millions of astral diamonds. It’s a barely function source of aggravation.
- The game is too linear. Lots of games are this way, but Neverwinter is scaled so that if you do every single quest in the game, in the exact order you encounter them, you will hit level 60 at almost the exact time you finish the very last quest in the game (assuming you don’t grind for XP between). There’s no exploring for the sake of it, there are no side quests. This linearity exists between and within zones. Each zone features a quest hub (pretty standard) that will then push you down a narrow path/road/cavern until you hit a larger area. Once done you will be directed down another path/road/cavern to another larger area. Repeat. There’s zero opportunity to go out and explore the world because you spend all your time being channeled from one zone/quest to another.
- EZ Mode Leveling. It’s too easy to level in Neverwinter. If you are a hardcore/dedicated player you will hit level 60 in 2-3 days. Then what? There’s nothing to do. One PVP map and you can run epic dungeons. No raids.
- Gear. Running epic dungeons and PVP at endgame is almost useless. You can buy epic gear from the auction house at very low prices (because most everything in the game is bind on equip, so there’s a glut of gear). When I hit 60 I spent about 30,000 Astral Diamonds (accumulated during play) to deck out my guardian fighter with about 7 pieces of epic equipment. This gave me a gear score of around 10,500. The hardest epic mode dungeon require a gear score about 2000 less than what I had without even setting foot in an epic dungeon. Maybe the dungeons are worth playing through once to see them. But to farm them? No . . . there’s no point.
- Stagnant Bosses. Every dungeon boss (and quest bosses for that matter) has the same mechanic: Fight, drop AOE, spawn adds (sometimes an insane amount of them), repeat until either the party is dead or the boss is dead.
- Speaking of dungeons . . . the game has only been out a handful of weeks and it is rife with elitist attitudes and players that will kick you out of groups if you play a certain class (mainly Great Weapon Fighters from what I hear), or if your dreaded gear score does not meet their standards.
- The ignore function is useless. Adding someone to ignore doesn’t keep them from spamming you with things like never ending guild invites (I have experience with this). If I add someone to my ignore it should be like they don’t exist to me in the game anymore. Not so here.
- Crafting is useless. It’s impossible for crafting to keep up with your leveling, unless you choose to grind out crafting after you hit level cap. Crafting is companions based. If you’ve played SWTOR you know exactly what I mean. And it parallels SWTOR’s system very closely.
- There are too many currencies/tokens/seals/BLAH. Gold, silver, copper, glory, 4 versions (or more) of gear seals, bars, barter tokens in each zone, Astral Diamonds, unrefined Astral Diamonds (WHY!?), Tarmalune Bars, Zen, at least 5 levels of enchant tokens, at least 5 levels of rune tokens, Ardent coins, Celestial coins, and other nonsense . . . BLAH!! Ridiculous and over contrived system. And of course every one of them except AD and coins take up bag space . . . because PWE wants you to buy bags. I don’t even want to deal with it, and the only reason these currency systems are in the game is to drive people to spend money on ridiculous items in the store.
- There’s no gear preview. That’s it . . . not much more to say. This is 2013, right?
- In game mail fail. There’s only one mailbox in the entire world. But Perfect World Entertainment will gladly sell you teleport scrolls to the city of Neverwinter so you can extract items from the mail. What’s that? Just run back? Fine and good if you are close to the front of a zone and can teleport through the gate/door. But remember how linear and tunnel-like some of these zones are? If you are deep in to the back of a zone it might take you a full 10 minutes to run through it’s winding, linear, channeling pathways, teleport back to Neverwinter, then run through the city to the one mailbox so you can battle 50 other people standing right on top of the single mail dude. Or buy a teleport scroll!
- NPC flair. NPCs repeat their lines once every five seconds if you stand near them. A longer period, or a wider variety of dialogue would immensely help immersion. Not to mention nerves.
- Lack of low level PVP gear. There is no real PvP gear below 60. It would be great to have at least some items, perhaps even low level sets, like the seals give stuff as soon as you can start doing dungeons.
- Loot rolling options (or lack of). The roll options for dungeons is bad. Almost every piece of gear (except rings and necklace) have class restrictions, but there are no looting restrictions. So when you run dungeons you’ll invariably have wizards rolling need on gear that can only be equipped by fighters, and so on. The claim is they need it for their companions. This is the same nightmare system that SWTOR used. It’s bad.
- Currency sharing. You cannot transfer astral diamonds or gold or any other currency between your own characters.
- This is essentially a “pay to win” game. It has mechanics similar to SWTOR. One example of an absurd store item is 600 ZEN (currency) to change your character spec. 600 ZEN = $6. Insane! You want me to pay $6 to change my character skill points? Faster mounts cost $40. Keys to unlock Nightmare Lockboxes cost $1.25 (this is a tactic used in many MMOs). Dangle a potentially intriguing shiny in front of players and they’ll pay for the chance to unlock a box and get it…but they usually don’t. Here’s the kicker: You cannot earn ZEN in the game, you can only buy ZEN from Perfect World Entertainment (PWE). Wait, it gets better. You can only buy ZEN from PWE in $5 lots (500 ZEN). So you’ll have to spend $10 to respec your character assuming you have no left over ZEN in your account. See what they did there?
- More on ZEN. Okay, there is one way to earn ZEN in the game and that’s to exchange astral diamonds for them. You can earn astral diamonds by completing in game tasks. But the player driven exchange rate is so high that you’ll need millions of AD to accumulate a fairly small amount of ZEN. If you plan on supplementing your play by dipping in to the store, farming AD is a painful way to do it. And that’s what PWE wants. They want it to be so painful that you whip out the credit card and just buy ZEN from them.
- More on Nightmare Lockboxes. I have approximately 40 Nightmare Lockboxes in the bank. To unlock them all would cost about $50 worth of keys. Not happening. The mechanic of having purple colored (which has become the universal color of epic virtual doodads) boxes drop that require a purchasable key is basically a casino system. PWE is taking your money and giving you the remote chance of getting a rare make believe item. MMO developers are smart. It’s not about how good the game is, it’s about how much money they can pull out of your wallet. They employ (or contract) psychologists to help create systems that feed (or kick start) that gambling bug that everyone has to some degree or another. Don’t fall for it. You know what you should do with that money instead (aside from the obvious)? Take it down to a casino and bet it on a real game. You have a higher chance of winning . . . and winning something tangible: more money! But in the end it’s your dime, and who am I to mandate how others spend their hard earned money. Hey, I’m just tossing out options!
- I could go on, but I won’t. If this list doesn’t convince you to evaluate Neverwinter extensively before dropping a single dime in the game…I don’t know what will.
So Neal, What Should I Do?!
Well, if you’re interested download the game and give it a shot. But do not, I repeat, DO NOT spend a dime in the in game store or buying a founders pack. You’ll regret it. If you find it mildly amusing then by all means fart around in F2P mode. You can explore the entire world, do all the quests, do all the dungeons, and the PVP without paying a dime. You may be inconvenienced and frustrated from time to time, or not have the best of everything, but Neverwinter is not worth spending money on.
Buy why did I play it for 60 levels? Because it was free (I’ve spent nothing on the game), I enjoyed the sense of D&D nostalgia it gave me, and I really liked the action based combat and simple quickbar. Yes, that was enough, and sometimes that’s all it takes. But do I want to invest money in the game? No (insert laughter). Now that I’m 60 and not really having anything to do . . . Neverwinter is being kicked to the curb. I’ll log in sporadically to check things you, but I will not be playing it long term, nor will I drop a dime on it.
As always, your mileage may vary.
I’m off to play a single player game where I’m not feeling someone’s hand in my pocket fishing for money every ten seconds. Now get off my lawn!